Premier League fans were less than surprised by the appointment of ex-Ajax head coach Erik ten-Hag to the position of manager at Manchester United as it seemed the natural move for an up-and-coming manager looking to make a further mark in his managerial journey after initial success in the 2022/23 season, the start of the 2023/24 season has been nothing short of dreadful for the Red Devils.
With a traumatic 3-1 loss to Brighton, and a disappointing loss against Bayern Munich, Erik ten Hag needs to come up with something.
You have to admit, it’s not looking good.
With just two wins in the Premier League against Nottingham Forrest and Wolves, what is going on at Manchester United?
The centre-half pairing of Harry Maguire and Johnny Evans being cameoed against Brighton looked woeful. It has horrifying echoes of the Arsenal defence that featured the likes of Mustafi and David Luiz, a calamity combination.
Harry Maguire, is a good defender with Bayern’s goalscorer Harry Kane stating that he is one of the best to ever wear an England shirt. However, the player is just not right for Manchester United, constantly looking suspect, and a move was needed in the summer. Jonny Evans is but a shadow of the player he once was in the Leceister FA Cup-winning side of 2021.
But the defence is not the only problem.
From a series of external problems plaguing the dressing room and with Jadon Sancho hitting out at the manager, Erik ten Hag has not had it easy. From the players he has at his disposal, this Manchester United team should not be sitting 13th.
But the manager believes he has still never played his strongest line-up.
But what is it, Erik?
What’s going on?
Manchester United (4-2-3-1, right to left): Onana (GK) — Dalot, Lindelof, Martinez, Reguilon (Defence) Casemiro, McTominay (Holding Midfielders) Fernandes, Eriksen, Rashford (Attacking Midfield) Hojlund (Striker). Manchester United vs. Brighton and Hove Albion (16/08/23)
The starting lineup against Brighton had enough quality in 2023 to get the top four albeit missing Varane and Shaw. So why now is it not good enough?
It is clear to see the quality in the squad, but the team is lacking the clinical touch. United are fifth in big chances missed and are not generally creating the chances to be finished with only 9 through balls completed below the likes of Crystal Palace and Aston Villa. This is despite having Eriksen, Bruno Fernandes, and Mount all capable of creating chances. It suggests the system might not fit the players.
There are injuries currently plaguing the squad and lacking Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Sofyan Amrabat, and Mason Mount in the squad is certainly a hit for the Red Devils. The depth is good enough to perform though, with players such as Hannibal in and around the first team.
These injuries are an issue, but even the squad in its current state is certainly underperforming.
A mixed Bag of Signings
The acquisitions of Mount, Onana, Hojlund, Reguilon, and Amrabat all look to be decent signings on paper for the club. However, football isn’t played on paper.
Mason Mount was an odd signing and for £70 million, it is hard to see value for money. The player hasn’t performed since he played under Lampard at Chelsea and is yet to show it in a United shirt. The thinking was clear, he would play the Van de Beek role that was successful during Ten Hag’s tenure at Ajax. Despite having Van de Beek in the squad on his arrival…
Sergi Reguilon is looking for a career renaissance under ten Hag and with Shaw out injured, it is the perfect opportunity to do so having suffered under Conte at Spurs. However, has yet to recapture the form he showed for Sevilla in La Liga in the Premier League.
Manchester United have the third-worst defensive record in the league with 10 goals conceded from five games, it makes you wonder, would De Gea have done any worse than Andre Onana?
The Positives for Ten Hag
With Hojlund it certainly looks promising and at such a young age he shows great potential. Getting the only goal for United against Bayern looks good on his Manchester United CV, certainly the highlight so far.
Amrabat’s performances in the World Cup show that the player is an excellent signing. He comes in from Fiorentina to provide quality support in midfield. Manchester United are craving a box-to-box-midfeilder who is great in the challenge, and Amrabat looks to be that.
This form can’t last forever though. In the 2022/23 season, with similar players, they achieved top 4 against the odds in the opinion of many fans. The question needs to be asked though, is it over expectation this season?
Of course, the signings, so far, have been disappointing, but with time they will perform. At the end of the day, Manchester United went from “McFred” to Casemiro and Amrabat, absolutely an improvement.
It’s early doors in the Premier League but the warning signs are there for Erik ten Hag, and if Manchester United do not stop giving away points like they have so far it is going to be a long season for the fans and a potentially short one for ten Hag at the helm of the Red Devils.
At the moment, however, Ole deserves an apology.